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  • How Badly Did Referees Cost the Wild In Game 4?

    Image courtesy of Brad Rempel-USA Today Sports
    Tony Abbott



    If you thought the Xcel Energy Center crowd couldn't loathe anyone as much as they despised Ryan Suter, NHL officials wanted to challenge that on Sunday night.

    After watching two calls go against Marcus Foligno in crucial spots in the 3-2 loss to the Dallas Stars in Game 4, the crowd's "Ref! You suck!" chants were raucous and unrelenting.

    It turns out Foligno didn't much like the offending calls, either.

    "Bullshit," he told the media after the game. "It's a joke. It doesn't make any sense. I got to hit a guy, he touches the puck. It's not interference. I get high-sticked in the face. It's not a tripping call when you hit a guy clean on."

    Were these penalties outside the bounds of the rulebook? You decide.

    Just kidding. If you're reading this, we have a pretty good idea you hated them, too. Now, as writers for Hockey Wilderness, we can't promise you we aren't susceptible to bias on this kind of issue. But we can try to be as objective as humanly possible here, and our verdict is as follows:

    Come on! Look at this for like two freaking seconds!

    Maybe the penalties aren't the story of the night if they didn't come at the worst possible times for Minnesota. Tyler Seguin potted his first goal of the night after Foligno's alleged interference call, breaking a scoreless tie in the second period. The tripping call came with Minnesota down 2-1 with 4:39 remaining in the game. That's prime Let them play territory, especially when there's arguably a potential offsetting call.

    Instead, Dallas got another power play, where Seguin cashed in again. Minnesota got a makeup call, but it was too little, too late. Minnesota didn't have enough time to get the tying goal, and that was that.

    Those penalties are going to be the lasting memory of this game for Wild fans, and who knows, maybe the wider media landscape as well. But should they be?

    At first glance, probably not. Neither penalty the referees called on Foligno affected the raw odds that Minnesota would win by very much. Both Evolving Hockey and Moneypuck track win probability in real-time, using data that goes back to 2007-08 to determine what events move the needle from wins to losses.

    What did Foligno's penalties mean for Minnesota's chances of winning the game?

    They weren't insignificant, but the penalties weren't game-changing in themselves. Foligno's penalty in a scoreless game affected Minnesota's chances of winning only by about 3.5%, according to both sites. But the sites differ on the one after that. Evolving Hockey puts the odds of the Wild winning going down from 8.8% down to 7.6%. That difference is pretty negligible. Moneypuck puts it at about 3.5%, which is definitely bigger, seeing as Minnesota was only at about 11% odds to win before that.

    So, at worst, we're talking about swinging thing Dallas' way by about 7%? It's definitely not nothing, but we're also not talking about gift-wrapping the Stars a victory, either.

    That doesn't quite put an end to our calculations, though. Putting some thought into it, it's got to be the second of Foligno's penalties that was most devastating to Minnesota. Yes, Seguin converting on the first one put the Wild in a 1-0 hole, but they also had nearly 25 minutes to get that goal back.

    On the other hand, the penalty with 4:39 remaining didn't just give the Stars a prime chance to widen the scoring gap. At best, it also would've all but eliminated 43% of the remaining time for Minnesota to even things up by having them play a man down for two minutes. Giving Dallas the chance to run out the clock for two minutes even if they didn't score is arguably more valuable than the opportunity to score.

    Because if not for that penalty, Minnesota may have had another minute to play with a 6-on-5 advantage. They'd already scored one goal with an empty net (admittedly, against four defenders, not five), so that extra minute of 6-on-5 hockey might have made a difference.

    We can go down this rabbit hole all day and game theory it out. Those calls definitely mattered, and it might have mattered a great deal more than the raw odds show. Even so, focusing on the referees in this spot is missing a much larger problem for Minnesota.

    You see,  Foligno going to the penalty box accounted for just two of the three penalties the Wild committed all day.

    Minnesota played a disciplined game, even if Foligno's penalties were both completely legitimate. If someone came up to Dean Evason and the Wild and offer to guarantee them only three times on the penalty kill that night, would they take it?

    Maybe? Minnesota had 30 games where they took two or fewer penalties, so maybe they'd want to roll the dice and hope for a game without many calls. But they were also the fifth-most penalized team in the league, with 28 games of four or more times on the penalty kill. Taking that middle road instead of risking putting the Stars lethal power play on the ice four, five, six, or even seven times might be worth it.

    Regardless of what they'd decide, though, Minnesota's penalty kill was only asked to stifle the Stars for six minutes. A tough task, perhaps, because Dallas averaged a goal about every six minutes of power play time for the regular season. Still, the Wild penalty kill group was 11th in goals allowed per hour, only allowing a goal about every nine minutes. 

    Instead, the penalty kill sank Minnesota's chances, as they've threatened to do all series. Yes, a power play headlined by Jason Robertson, Roope Hintz, Miro Heiskanen, and Tyler Seguin are going to get theirs. That probably can't be helped, to some extent. But the way they've eaten the Wild alive is unacceptable. 

    Their 2-for-3 night on the power play brings their total up to seven goals on 16 opportunities  — a 43.8% conversion rate. Is that an unsustainable small sample size? You bet. But it doesn't need to be sustainable. It just needs to last long enough to eliminate the Wild, which Dallas is now halfway to doing. And if Minnesota is going to continue to allow them to be this effective on the man advantage, the referees are almost irrelevant. At this rate, if they're making two penalty calls against Minnesota, the Stars are liable to get a goal.

    What makes matters worse is that the Wild didn't put themselves in a position to offset it, either with their power play or a dominant 5-on-5 effort. Their power play might get some undeserved kudos for going 1-for-4, but they couldn't punch it in when the game truly hung in the balance.

    As for 5-on-5 play, the Stars did enough to draw even with the even-strength opportunities to avoid letting the Wild run away with things. Add that up with the high-danger chances they garnered on their few special teams opportunities, and Dallas had the upper hand for the entire game. Moneypuck's "Deserve To Win O'Meter" runs 1000 simulations based off the scoring chances each side generates, and through several refreshes, it pegs Dallas consistently as having a 61-64% chance of winning that game.


    Who am I, or anyone else to deny the fans their anger at the referees? I won't do that to you. It's the playoffs, getting mad at the referees is as time-honored an NHL tradition as growing a beard or playing with one unbroken limb. You can make your "Ref! You suck!" chants. And it's hard not to agree on those calls against Foligno.

    But if you're a Wild player, there's only one place to point the finger: themselves. The team can't control when the whistles blow, and they certainly can't ensure things are being called fairly, if such a thing is even truly possible. They can control their penalty killing. Foligno can control whether he can finish on a breakaway attempt. The power play can control whether they convert on their chances. And the team as a whole can control whether they play so well at 5-on-5 that a poor call or two can't swing the game.

    Those calls were tough breaks, but if any Wild player focuses their energy dwelling on those more than focusing on how to improve their execution, that's as big of a gift to the Stars as any call a referee can make.

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    While the refs had some WTF moments, (that trip call towards the end stands out as the biggest one) I can't put the blame on them.  The number of odd man rushes and breakaways that got stopped.... tough to win when that many opportunities are not cashed in on.  I think mostly the game gets chalked up to Otter being a wall in that game and bounces not going our way.  Best of 3 going forward, just need to bury the chances when they come.

    After the game I wasn't mad at how it played out, I feel the wild out played the stars , had more dangerous chances and did what they should do to win, just no puck luck. 2 or 3 more games like the last games 3 and 4 and I feel the wild win the series. Just need to bury 1 or 2 of those big opportunities. 

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    No doubt bad calls.  The first one was a clean hit.  Refs just didn't like the severity of it so called it.  It's a bad call... but I get it.. at that stage of the game they are trying to keep the game civil.  The 2nd one was downright disgraceful.  The Refs should be embarrassed.  The guy jumps out of the way and cross checks Foligno in the head causing blood.  So not only was he not tripped, but the Wild should have had a 4 minute power play.  That certainly changes the odds.  Foligno's leg clearly tucks in below him before contact is made so there is zero chance a trip is a valid call.

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    I will say, the Wild played well.  They played the right way and played hard.  They had ample chances and just didn't get the puck luck.  It happens.  If they stay strong and keep that up there is a solid chance they win the next game.  Finish with Pride by playing the right way.  

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    55 minutes ago, MNCountryLife said:

    No doubt bad calls.  The first one was a clean hit.  Refs just didn't like the severity of it so called it.  It's a bad call... but I get it.. at that stage of the game they are trying to keep the game civil.  The 2nd one was downright disgraceful.  The Refs should be embarrassed.  The guy jumps out of the way and cross checks Foligno in the head causing blood.  So not only was he not tripped, but the Wild should have had a 4 minute power play.  That certainly changes the odds.  Foligno's leg clearly tucks in below him before contact is made so there is zero chance a trip is a valid call.

    Absolutely a terrible night for the stripes. There were bad calls going both ways, unfortunately the timing of the final one was terrible. But the trip on Zuccarello and an interference call on Dallas on Nyquist were both equally bad and should not have been called.  Everyone knows the refs are bad, most of all the teams on the ice and have to do everything possible to either take advantage or over come it, both things the wild have struggled with mightily, Which is why it is a 2-2 series.

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    That deserve-o-meter seems a little off to me. If the Wild can convert on the 2-1s & breakaways, I would think it's a different game.  Score is 0-0 when those occurred and we should have been able to convert. 

    Oettinger has let goals in stick side high. Can anyone understand why Kaprizov went 5 hole? Foligno didn't have much of a chance to do anything else on his.  Hartsy should have gone stick side as well.  

    Last Foligno penalty when he gets up bloodied: If you're going to call him for tripping, you have to even it up with high sticking-blood drawn double minor. It's the only way they can call it.  I think they went to commercial break right after the call, so the referees should have conferenced, and, perhaps they did?  Someone's got to see that high stick, though, and I think on blood, even the linesmen can chime in.

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    Word. Do better on the PK and the calls don't matter.

    We're playing how we should at even strength, but the PK is absolutely killing us. Outside of the game 2 shellacking where we played like complete garbage from top to bottom, the Stars have just 6 total goals across the 3 other games. 

    4 of those are PPG. If the PK steps up and starts doing their job better, we ought to be able to reach the next round. 

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